Bristol, the largest city in South West England, has played a unique and important role in the nation's history. Once England's second city, the prestige of Bristol is reflected in splendid architecture, a rich maritime heritage and beautiful estates and parkland.
In Anglo-Saxon times a settlement grew up between the Rivers Avon and Frome. The settlement, known as Brig-stow, grew in importance after the Norman Conquest of 1066 when a castle was built on what is now Castle Park. Bristol's global trading activity gradually increased over the centuries, with ships leaving there to found or support existing colonies in the New World. In 1497, John Cabot – an Italian financed by Bristol merchants – set sail from Bristol in his ship, the Matthew, hoping to find a passage to the spice islands; he actually discovered Newfoundland.
The city continued to expand and much original architecture remains, including numerous medieval churches. The great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel is responsible for some of Bristol's best-loved features, such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge, his great iron ship the S.S. Great Britain and Temple Meads old station, terminus for the Great Western Railway.
New docks were built at the mouth of the Avon in the 1870s and Bristol continued as an industrial centre. The construction of aircraft – including Concorde – at Filton became an important post-war industry, and Bristol is also the home of Rolls Royce. Today, Bristol is a commercial centre, one of the most popular cities for business relocation and a major focus for media industries. The harbour area continues to be developed, the old city is substantially restored and Clifton remains charming and elegant.